Monday, May 30, 2011

Slow Cooker in the Summer

Many people think of the slow cooker as a winter appliance.  However it can be a helpful and frugal summer appliance as well.  First, it uses less energy than a regular oven.  It also does not heat up your house the way a regular oven will.  Some families are so busy that they can't always eat at the same time--the slow cooker can provide a hot meal before or after those ball games or other activities.  Finally it is a forgiving way to use up some of those leftover bits of veggies and meats in soups for soup and sandwiches.

I was home during the day today and got to see some daytime shows I don't typically get to watch.  Today on Rachael Ray's show she featured the slow cooker.  One was for Salsa Chicken and it's simple and uses ingredients I have on hand.  I plan to serve it in tortillas as a wrap.  You can find other slow cooker recipes along the right side of that link including Teriyaki Chicken, White Chili, Meatballs and Sauce, Pulled Pork, and Pork Roast.  I'm definitely going to try some of those out.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Summer Bucket List

There's only one more week of school here.  It's time to make a list of things to do this summer together.

Kelly over at Little Wonders' Days has this wonderful tradition of creating a summer bucket list of activities to do with her family this summer.  She even puts the ideas into a sand bucket and they draw them out.  (I won't probably go that far this year, we'll just work off of our list.)  Kelly posted her list here.  And other bloggers linked up their own bucket lists here.  And she added some ideas from those lists to her own list here.  Talk about lots of inspirational ideas.  I am a few weeks behind, but it isn't quite summer here, so I don't feel like I'm late.

With budgets tight and gas prices high, we will plan lots of local cheap or free activities.  But my family loves these types of things.  The memories and traditions we are starting now will become stories that they tell their kids someday.  Without further ado, here is our Summer Bucket List 2011.

(edited to start check items off <or I will get confused> green means done, yellow means started)

1.  Visit 10 parks to play and picnic. (This has become somewhat of a family tradition over the past couple of years.  Cheap and fun entertainment.)  (11 down)
2.  Minigolf
3.  Fishing
4.  Swimming at the pool.
5.  Visit a farmer's market other than our own.
6.  Scavenger hunt
7.  Iowa State Fair
8.  Water Fight
9.  Slip and Slide
10.  Wienie Roast with s'mores (another tradition with my family)
11.  Camping
12.  Library activities (3 different types at our library)
13.  Hunt down Dan Wardell
14.  Creek stomping at my brother's house
15.  Homemade Ice Cream
16.  Homemade Popsicles
17.  Catch Lightning Bugs
18.  Wii night with friends
19.  Make Milk Shakes
20.  Go to Adventureland
21.  Homemade Bubbles
22.  Bike Paths
23.  Look at the stars
24.  Go on a hike
25.  Go to a movie as a family
26.  Tie Dye
27.  VBS
28.  Swimming Lessons
29.  County Fair
30.  Make fizzing sidewalk chalk
31.  Eat Chinese (the kids have been bugging me to do this for awhile now)
32.  Fly a Kite
33.  Superhero day--make capes out of old Tshirts and wear them all day
34.  Feed the Geese
35.  Fourth of July parade/carnival/fireworks
36.  Try 3 Sisters Method of Gardening
37.  Start a Worm Compost Bin
38.  Family Pictures by Jamie
39.  Make a HUGE Bubble Wand
40.  Help to build the new playground at my school
41.  Colby's Birthday Party
42.  Braedon's Birthday Party
43.  Visit Reiman Gardens
44.  Visit a zoo
45.  Play 'Get Lost in the Country'
46.  Donate toys to the thrift store
47.  Hot Air Balloons
48.  Look for pictures in the clouds
49.  Play board games
50.  Play dough-- make it and play with it.

That's a long list, but most items on it were already on our agenda.  Most do not require a lot of money or travel.  We plan to make the most of our summer together even on our tight budget.  As we complete items on our Bucket List I will blog about them here.  Do you have a Summer Bucket List for 2011?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Plan Your Shopping Trip

One frugal tip that seems second nature to me because I have been doing it for about three years now--plan your shopping trip to get the best deals.  However I still run into people all the time who do not do this.

One example--as a teacher in a preschool that encourages family involvement I build relationships with my families so that by this time of year we are visiting at conferences/home visits like old friends.  One mom mentioned that she would like to serve more fresh fruits and vegetables, but they are so expensive.  They certainly can be, but as we continued the conversation I discovered that she did her grocery shopping at Walmart and she had just bought a big bag of apples there that were just on sale at Fareway the week before.

I always keep a decent amount of apples in our fridge, but I am not terribly picky about the variety of apple that we get.  I choose the variety that is on sale and there seems to be one on sale every week.  I also check the ads in our weekly Advertiser, compare them to Sara's match-ups at Learning the Frugal Life (she has these up by Wednesday each week), and plan my trip accordingly.  I always have fresh produce on my list, but the actual items vary with the deals that are going on.  I buy carrots when they are on sale.  I buy lettuce when it is on sale and so on.

I stock up on items that will keep when I find them on sale and especially if I can stack advertised sales with coupons.  Peanut butter and ketchup are hot items right now and we seem to go through a lot of these.  I would rather buy them now for a fraction of the price, than buy them for full price later.  Hot Coupon World has a list of sales cycles that helps new deal hunters to know when it is the best time to shop for various items.  They also have a coupon database where you can search for available coupons for the items on your list.

Don't be brand loyal.  Know your sales cycles.  Plan your trip to purchase items on sale.  Stack sales and coupons when possible.  Stock up on non-perishables when you get a deal.  Make one trip to the store per week to save on gas.  Pinch those pennies and make them count.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


It's been so long since I wrote a real post that I don't know where to start.  So I will start with baseball.

Our small town has little league baseball through the parks and rec program.  I have never been athletic and was not in softball in my youth, but both my brother and sister were.  My parents were on the Little League board for a while and my mom ran the concession stand for a couple of summers.  Back then that was the way kids spent the first part of their summers.  We played on little league teams twice a week during May and June.  Towards the end of June there were tournaments.  Season and tournament champs were awarded trophies by the fourth of July.  Just about every team had an entry in the parade on the fourth.  These usually amounted to the team, in uniform, riding in the back of the coach's truck and throwing candy to the crowd.

I asked Mom how many teams there were back in the day.  She said she could remember there being 17 minor boys teams (1st through 3rd grade), including teams from surrounding communities (Weldon, Van Wert, Murray, and Woodburn when my brother first started playing).  Local businesses sponsored the teams.  Every team had a photo posted in the local paper.  Coaches were usually parents.  For the most part the goal was fun with some education of the way the game was played, teamwork, and to win a few games thrown in.

We all know times have changed since we were kids.  My older two boys are in baseball.  Colby is in PeeWee (1st and 2nd grade), which means that everyone bats every inning and coaches pitch to their team.  Braedon is in Minors (3rd and 4th) and they play a normal game for the most part.  They have strikes, balls, and outs.  Both boys have good coaches and are enjoying the season.  Ron is assistant coach for Braedon's team.  What I think is a little sad is that there are four teams for each of these age groups, compared to 17 twenty years ago.  Some of this is due to less kids getting involved in this past time.  Some of it is also due to the change in focus.

We have 'traveling teams' in town and the lines are drawn very early distinguishing between the good players and the not so good players.  The best players join the traveling teams and devote lots of time and energy improving their game.  These players begin practice in the winter and will play nearly everyday all summer long.  I have mixed feelings.  I am all for perfecting a skill.  I do wonder sometimes if we are putting too much emphasis on winning anymore.  Maybe it's always been that way and I just have a tainted memory.  Maybe I'm in the minority because I was never an athlete and I can't appreciate what all is involved.  I do worry that parents are setting up their wonderful athletes for disappointment and failure if their body gives out on them.  What if you have set your sites on a ball scholarship to get you through college and you have an injury that prevents you from completing this goal?  How many athletes get burnt out on the game when that becomes their life?  How many are unable to explore other possible interests due to their full-time job in sports?  How many kids are unable to learn about a sport because they don't think they are good enough to play?  How many families limit their time together to time spent developing their sport and throw family dinners, and other activities, to the wayside?

It makes me a little reminiscent for the old days sometimes.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Busy Days

Well, it's been a while.  Everything is fine here, just super busy on all fronts.  Hope to get some detailed blogs about that by this weekend (no promises, things will still be busy).  But while you wait...

At work...
...We had grandparents' day at preschool nearly two weeks ago now.  Love the grandparents, but I always get a bit nervous with so many other adults in the rooms that are not fully aware of how preschool works.  Things went well, by the way.
...We had two field trips last week.  On Thursday we traveled to Osceola and our preschoolers along with the other preschoolers in our county had a track and field day.  On Friday our preschool took 28 children and at least that many adults to the zoo in Des Moines.  Both trips were successful.  Both were exhausting.
...The end of the school year is next week for preschool.  However instead of winding down, things actually feel like they are revving up, as we have packed lots of activities into the last few weeks.
...This week we have federal reviewers in our center observing, going through files, and asking lots of questions.  We have a good program, but this is all nerve wracking.
...Today we had high school students working with us all afternoon.  They needed to do a project for their Health Occupations class.  We needed some guest speakers for health lessons.  Win-win.
...As of now, I only have three more days with my kiddos.  While I am anxious for the end of the school year and the change in routine for me (nope, won't get less busy...the busy-ness will just change) I will miss those little guys.
...I have an IEP meeting and several home visits that I need to prepare for and all this has been put on the back burner to deal with the more pressing issues of field trip planning and preparing for this review.

At home...
...Two boys have started baseball.  Practices three nights a week have turned into games three nights a week.  Throw in supper and baths and it makes for a hectic night three times each week.  We are all out of the house by 7 every morning, so it can also make for a stressful morning after a later bedtime.
...Our washer broke last week.  We got a used one.  It works fine, but is smaller.  I'm trying to get used to it.
...Farmers' Market will start before we know it.  I have lots of preparations to do.  Signs need to be made and distributed.  Gardens need to be planted (Ron is in charge of this, but I plan to help more this year).  I need to plan my baking and figure prices/prepare ingredient lists/signage for our table.
...Freezer Meal group meets this w/e.  I have actually started some of what I will take.  Woo Hoo!  But I seem to research recipes for this about once a week or so.  I will be working on that over the next few days.
...Cub scouts are winding down, but we have a campout this weekend.  I will not be camping, but I will participate in some of the activities.  There's a few more fun cub scout activities planned for this summer, and I have some sign-up deadlines approaching.
...The boys have been having a hard time balancing all these activities and keeping up with their normal responsibilities and staying in a good mood.  I know this is short term due to overlapping activities.  I refuse to overschedule, and this is why.

Whew, now that I got that all down, I think I am finally ready for bed.  Thanks for waiting for me.  I'll be back soon.  :)

Monday, May 2, 2011

It's the Most Important Meal of the Day

But sometimes we eat it at night.

When my siblings and I were growing up Mom made sure we had a good breakfast every morning.  Most days that was a hot breakfast.  We had eggs, or oatmeal, or malt-o-meal, or cream of wheat.  Sometimes we had rice with warm milk, a bit of sugar and cinnamon.  Sometimes we did have cereal, but it seems we had much more homemade goodness than my kids get.

One difference is that my mom did not have to be at work until nine.  So she could get us on the bus and then get ready for work.  I have to be to work as close to 7:30 as I can make it.  That means that we are all heading out the door at 7.  So breakfast is often not the healthiest meal of the day around here, and it also is not often made with love.  More often it is cold cereal, or cinnamon toast, sometimes it is even cereal bars or pop-tarts (I know...).  Occasionally I try to vary it with pbj sandwiches or quesadillas or muffins.

My kids have never been big fans of malt-o-meal, cream of wheat, or warm rice with milk.  Braedon likes oatmeal better than the other two.  They all like eggs, toast, English muffins, pancakes, French toast, bacon and sausage.  We make breakfast for supper about once a week around here.

Tonight I used a loaf of Texas Toast I found on the day-old rack for a buck.  (In the past I have also used a French baguette that I found in the same place for the same price.)  I cooked up the whole thing as French toast.  We ate a little less than half of it.  I chopped the rest into French toast sticks, flash froze them, then popped them into a freezer bag.  We will reheat them for a fun and easy breakfast later this week.  All for about $1.50 including the eggs, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon.